日付変更線 International Date Line


In late April, we were fortunate to have TAWADA Yōko, one of Japan’s most scintillatingly brilliant writers, come visit us at Western Michigan University, where she gave an unforgettable reading from her recent essays, poetry, and novels. While at WMU, she gave the reading debut of her short story「彼岸」or "Equinox," a sci-fi evocation of a post-apocalyptic Japan which has been rendered uninhabitable by a massive nuclear meltdown. The original Japanese version of this story is soon to be published in the journal 『早稲田文学』Waseda bungaku in Japan, and I have been translating it for publication abroad. 

Here are some photographs from Tawada’s visit. The photograph of her in fur was born out of a moment of spontaneous silliness. While chatting about her novel 『雪の練習生』(The Practitioners of Snow), which is narrated from the point of view of three polar bears, she began to wonder what she would look like as a bear. It just so happened that my partner, a former antique dealer, happened to have an an antique beaver jacket, antique beaver gloves, and a Russian-style hat in the closet, and so we pulled them out for her to try on and see. Not bear, of course, but at least it gave a hint of what Kuma no Yōko might look like! 

During this reading at Stanford University on May 2, 2014, Itō Hiromi will appear with me as her translator. We plan to read from her work about the 2011 disasters in Japan, as well as from the translation of her long, narrative poem Wild Grass on the Riverbank, which will be forthcoming from Action Books in fall 2014.  This award-winning, book-length narrative poem, called by critics “unprecedented” in the history of modern Japanese literature, deals with transpacific migration, linguistic isolation, and the question of what it means to belong to a place.


During this reading at Stanford University on May 2, 2014, Itō Hiromi will appear with me as her translator. We plan to read from her work about the 2011 disasters in Japan, as well as from the translation of her long, narrative poem Wild Grass on the Riverbank, which will be forthcoming from Action Books in fall 2014.  This award-winning, book-length narrative poem, called by critics “unprecedented” in the history of modern Japanese literature, deals with transpacific migration, linguistic isolation, and the question of what it means to belong to a place.



① 11月8日() 開場17:00
Hiyoshi Poetry Festival VI
  慶應義塾大学日吉キャンパス 独立館地下

 ② 119() 開場18:00 開演18:30
  詩人の聲 第
回 発表者:ジェフリー・アングルス
  東京都豊島区駒込1−28−8 東京平和教会

③ 1110日(土)開場18:00 開演18:30
  東京都杉並区善福寺2-30-19 葉月ホールハウス
2000円+1 drink order

 ④ 11月18日(日)開場13:30 開演14:00
  2012年しずおか連詩の会 作品の発表
  入場料:500円 ※事前申込制 11月2日(金)まで申込受付中
TEL 054-289-9000 FAX 054-203-5716 info@granship.or.jp

⑤ 1119日(月)19:0021:00
  東京都港区赤坂9−7−1 ミッドタウン・タワー7階 

朗読会+トーク:ジェフリー・アングルス、関 悦史、田中 庸介  2012.11.10 (土)

Today I received copies of the poster for one of the reading/talk events I will be doing during my whirlwind trip to Tokyo in November.  (Right now, there are five readings and talks planned at different universities and venues.)  This one, entitled “Nanopoetry and Macropoetry,” will be with the wonderful poet Tanaka Yōsuke and the haikuist Seki Etsushi, and it will be a poetry reading intermingled with lots of discussion.  Hope to see my Tokyo friends there!

Poetry Reading in Fifteen Languages: A Symphony for the Senses

Poetry Reading in Fifteen Languages:  A Symphony for the Senses
Portage District Library (Portage, MI)

Sunday, September 30
, 2:00-4:00 PM

As a celebration of this community’s diversity, the Portage District Library and the Department of World Languages and Literatures of Western Michigan University are collaborating on a poetry reading in fifteen languages.  We are bringing together area residents from different areas of the world, asking them to select a favorite poem or read a poem of their own in their language.  We encourage the audience to sit back and let the rhythms, movement and intonations flow over them and evoke personal feelings and meanings.  We will distribute translations into English as well. No registration required.  Free. Reception with foods from around the world will follow.

Marsha Meyer, Portage District Library: MMeyer@portagelibrary.info
Cynthia Running-Johnson, Department of World Languages and Literatures, WMU: c.running-johnson@wmich.edu

Alvin Pang: “Candles”

Alvin recorded this reading at Worlds 2012 in Norwich, where he shared a number of poems from his new collection When the Barbarians Arrive (Arc Publications, 2012).  The cadences and grammar of the Singlish (Singaporean English) have borrowed an incredible amount from Chinese, making listening to this poem a real treat.   

伊藤比呂美朗読会(ジェフリー・アングルス翻訳)・ノーとる・ダム大学Hiromi Ito reading at Notre Dame University, February 23, 2012 6:30 pm

Hiromi Ito reading at Notre Dame University, February 23, 2012 6:30 pm

ITŌ Hiromi reading excerpts from “I Am Anjuhimeko” at the Aomori Prefectural Modern Literature Museum in 2011

This video shows Itō Hiromi, a giant of contemporary Japanese literature, reading from one of her most important works, the long narrative poem “I Am Anjuhimeko” in which she recreates a spirit possession recorded in northeastern Japan in 1931.  For a commentary, see below.  A translation of the entire work appears in my book of translations Killing Kanoko: Selected Poems of Hiromi Itō (Action Books, 2009)

[Daughter] I am Anjuhimeko, three years old

In stories, it seems to me the person they refer to as father usually wasn’t around or was absence itself, no matter what story I happened to hear, the person called father would be dead in the house or out somewhere traveling or listening to whatever the stepmother was telling him to do, but in my house, there is someone called father, and he is intent on killing me, he is always doing his best to do so, but I don’t know what to do, I’ve had nothing but hardship since I was born

My father said this baby’s mouth is so monstrously big it seems to stretch all the way to her ears, her eyelids have folds in them, her face is flat, she’s got moles and birthmarks all over, her ears are big, big, big, something is wrong with her, it’s like she’s the freakish baby of some old priest, no way she’s mine, no way, I’ll call her Anjuhimeko, after those Anju—those lowly priests living in little cells for hermits—that’s what I’ll call her, and I’ll bury her in the sand, and if she can survive for three years then she can be my child

Something’s the matter with me, he says, look, I was born and here I am now, who cares if I’ve got one or two heads, who cares if I’ve got one or two hands, one too few or one too many? none of that really matters anyway, but that’s not what father says, he says let’s try burying her in the sand and waiting for three years, mother was willing to just go along with that, that was a big disappointment, but, well, here’s the problem, I’m just a newborn who can’t even see, and I can’t even utter a word to talk back, so I was wrapped in my mother’s silk underclothes and buried in a sandy spot near a river

Speaking of which, the sandy place near the river is the place where everybody buries their babies

To both the right and left of the place I was buried, there were so many buried babies that they jostled against each other, some were breathing, some weren’t, some had struggled partway out of the sand and then dried up, some had managed to escape all the way out of the sand and crawl away

Just crawl a little bit and there is a big bush, mosquitoes and flies sting any baby who tries to get there, but if they are able to escape from the fierce sun and take shelter from the rain and wind, they can pluck grass or leaves to eat, and if they manage to make it to the river, they can just go right in and live in the water, even though I was still buried in the sand, I watched the others around me, I watched the babies as they died, the ones who were already dead, and the ones who managed to survive and get away


[Mother] That’s right, how could anyone possibly have karma as bad as mine?

In only three years I gave birth to three children, but my husband buried one of the babies I’d gone to all the trouble to bear, he buried her in the sand, and now my swollen breasts are too much to bear, the holes in my breast where the milk should come out are plugged up, feverish, and swollen, just a simple touch and my breasts hurt so badly I think they’ll rip open, but between the pain in my breast and the sorrow at having my child buried, I spend every day weeping from dawn to dusk, and in the process of all this weeping, I have ruined my eyes, when that happened my husband said to me he didn’t want me in the house any longer because I’d gone blind, you’re the one who gave birth to the baby that wasn’t fit for anything except burial, no doubt you’ve got something deep and dark in your karmic past that made you give birth to that child and made you go blind, if you stay here, your deep, dark karma will rub off on me, so before that happens, do me the favor of dying or at least getting the hell out of the house, shit, I wish I could have buried you in the sand too, that’s what he said

Then, the next day, I check that the two children on my right and my left are still asleep, and I hold my breath as I quietly sneak out, I creep out of the house as quietly as I can, I’m going to dig a hole in the sand and hide myself in it, where was it that baby was buried? every day more and more people come to bury their babies so I don’t have any idea where mine is, I have no idea, but I dig a hole in the sand and bury myself in it anyway, and as I do so, the cries of the children reach my ears, I feel the faint warmth of the bodies of the buried babies, as long as I stay buried here in the sun, I can’t forget what has happened to me, if I’d known this was what fate had in store for me, I wouldn’t have obeyed my husband and buried the baby, that wasn’t a good idea, if things were all that bad, there must have been some other way, there must have been something I could’ve done, but no matter how much I regret it, no matter how much, no matter how much, no matter how much, it still isn’t enough, and I weep hysterically

When I look around, I see footprints in the sand, handprints in the sand, what are those? in them, I see the outlines of five toes and even the swirls of the prints of the individual toes, they’re the size of an adult’s feet – no, wait, here and there among the big prints are a couple of prints from a child’s foot, but there are only one or two of them, maybe those prints are Anjuhimeko’s, I see the patterns of fingers, several strands of hair, dried bloodstains, wet patches, many, many bodies of all different sorts, which of them belongs to her? I can’t say, does that handprint belong to her? could that footprint be hers? what about that fingerprint? is that strand of hair one of hers? when she was buried, the last thing I saw was her ear, a big, big, big ear, I could see the sand pouring into it so I took the hollow stalk of a reed and stuck it in the hole in her ear, and that was the last I saw of her, the hole was all filled in

Will my husband change his mind and come get me? what if he doesn’t? I don’t know, meanwhile, it seems as if I can hear the cries of the buried babies emerging here and there from the sandy patch of land, I don’t know, I feel what seems like the weight of a baby or something on my shoulders and on my back, it’s on my hands and arms, I feel as if I’m touching the children’s corpses, will my husband come or not? the stench of the babies reaches me every time the wind blows, I feel like the stench is accusing me every time the wind blows, if I’d known how things would work out, I would’ve gotten rid of the baby a long time ago when I was pregnant, that’s what I keep thinking to myself, but I didn’t and so that’s why these horrible things are happening to me, will my husband come or not? will he or won’t he? maybe he will and maybe he won’t, maybe he won’t, as I think these things to myself, the children accuse me and I feel their reproaches sink deep into my skin

And then I think that even if one was buried, two of my babies still remain, people keep telling me I should give up on her, I should give up on her, but even if I’ve given up on my buried baby, I still can’t give up on the husband who threw me out, buried here in the sand, all I can think about is whether or not he’ll suddenly change his mind and come take me away, that’s the only thing on my mind, dead child, go ahead and die, die, don’t look back, I want to live […]


[Daughter] Stories go fast in the telling, three years later, my father says, it’s the third anniversary of the day I buried Anjuhimeko, why don’t I try digging her up to see if she’s dead or alive?

And when he digs me up, here I am, I’m not dead, I haven’t dried up, I just warmed myself in the sand, a growing, a laughing, living body

Mother stuck the hollow stalk of a reed in the hole in my ear to mark where I was, so morning and night, I would suck the dew through the tiny, tiny, tiny hole in the stalk, and so I grew, a laughing, living body

That’s right, they dig me up and here I am, I’m not dead, I haven’t dried up, I just warmed myself in the sand, a growing, laughing, living body, mother stuck a stalk in the hole in my ear to mark me, morning and night I would suck the dew through the tiny, tiny, tiny hole, and here I am, a growing, laughing, living body, a growing, laughing living body, a growing, laughing, living body, that is what I am, that is who I am!

Many commentators have described Itō’s poems as “shamanistic,” in that they seem to channel voices that speak in stark, sometimes startling ways about the subjectivity and experiences of women. The long narrative poem I am Anjuhimeko is one of her most important works in this “shamanistic” style.  In fact, in her public readings of this poem, she plays the part of a shamaness, creating the illusion that she is possessed by a spirit.  While reciting it, she raps on a drum, table, or the floor to punctuate the narrative and draw attention to the rhythms embedded in the text. 

In medieval Japan, there emerged a kind of popular entertainment known as sekkyō-bushi—stories that itinerant storytellers would recite and sing to musical accompaniment.  The most famous sekkyō-bushi is the tale of “Sanshō the Steward” (Sanshō dayū).  (Western audiences might know this story through a modern retellings by the novelist Mori Ōgai or the film adaptation by the celebrated director Mizoguchi Kenji.)  In the process of exploring the world of sekkyō-bushi and Japanese folklore, Itō came across an alternative version of this story recorded in Tsugaru, northeastern Japan, the same region where Itō performed this reading in 2011. In August 1931, the anthropologist Takeuchi Nagao recorded an account of spirit possession from a medium named Sakuraba Sue.  She had learned the text from her predecessors, yet when the text was performed, it appeared to be the spontaneously generated speech of a spirit possessing her. Because the story was narrated in the first person and in the past tense, it gave listeners the distinct impression that it was being told by a spirit speaking from beyond the grave.

Mainstream versions of the “Sanshō the Bailiff” describe the tale of a brother and sister separated from their parents.  This separation ends unhappily when the children are torn from their parents and sold into slavery.  In the end, the daughter sacrifices her life so that her brother can escape to freedom; however, in the alternative version recorded among in rural northeastern Japan, the story focuses exclusively on the daughter, who does not sacrifice herself but instead struggles toward freedom.  The excerpt that Itō is reading here comes from the opening passages of the text, in which the daughter-spirit Anjuhimeko describes her own birth and surviving her parents’ attempts to kill her. The story then switches to the voice of her mother as a spirit, who describes her suffering at having to destroy her own child, before returning to the voice of the daughter, who has survived. 

In Itō’s hands, the story from the spirit possession becomes a powerful modern myth of healing and self-discovery.  Even when experiencing pain and punishment, the body continues to want to survive.  Although tortured, battered, and bruised, there is a part within the body and within the human psyche that insists upon its own existence—a body that insists on growing, laughing, and living. 

ITŌ Hiromi 伊藤比呂美 reading one of her most famous pieces of poetry, “Killing Kanoko"「カノコ殺し」at Western Michigan University in 2008

This poem, written at the time when Ito was taking care of her first daughter Kanoko, is one of Ito’s most famous and frequently anthologized poems. The bold expression of a young mother’s desire to commit infanticide shocked many readers and earned Ito a place in the tabloid newspapers. The words “Congratulations on your destruction” (horoboshite omedeto gozaimasu) repeat and overlap, creating recurring, almost hypnotic cadences that parody the congratulatory message a young mother hears repeatedly upon becoming pregnant or giving birth.

The translation I am reading here appears in Killing Kanoko (Action Books, 2009).